HotFreeBooks.com
The Knights of the Cross
by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"There are no strongholds whatever in that neighborhood; all is one wilderness, through which a road was recently cut. There are neither villages nor farms. The Germans burned those that were there, for the reason that the inhabitants of those places who are also Zmudzians, had also risen in arms against the Knights of the Cross with their brethren here. I think, sir, that Zygfried and Arnold are now wandering about the woods; either they are trying to return to the place whence they came, or attempting furtively to reach that fortress whither we were going to before that unfortunate battle."

"I am sure that it is so," said Zbyszko. He became absorbed in thought so that he contracted his brows; he was obviously trying to find some plan, but it did not last long. After a while he lifted up his head and said:

"Hlawa! See that the horses and men get ready; we must move at once."

The Bohemian, whose custom was never to ask for reasons when commanded, without saying a single word, got up and ran toward the horses; then Macko opened wide his eyes at his nephew and said with surprise:

"And ... Zbyszko? Hey! Where are you going? What?... How?..."

But he answered his questions with another:

"And what do you think? Is it not my duty?"

The old knight had nothing to say. His looks of astonishment disappeared little by little from his face; he shook his head once or twice and finally drew a deep breath and said as though replying to himself:

"Well! there you are.... There is no other remedy!"

And he also went to the horses, but Zbyszko returned to de Lorche, and by means of a Mazovian interpreter spoke to him thus:

"I cannot ask you to go with me against the people with whom you served. You are therefore free and you may go wherever you please."

"I cannot serve you now with my sword against my knightly honor," replied de Lorche; "but as to your granting me my freedom, I cannot accept that either. I remain your prisoner on parole and shall be at your command whithersoever you send me. And in case you want to exchange prisoners, remember that the Order will exchange for me any prisoner, because I am not only a powerful knight, but I am a descendant of a line of Knights of the Cross of great merit."

Then they embraced each other according to custom, placing their hands on each other's arms and kissing each other on the cheeks, and de Lorche said:

"I will go to Malborg or to the Mazovian court, so that you may know if I am not in one place you can find me in the other. Thy messenger need only tell me the two words, 'Lotaryngia-Geldria'"

"Well," said Zbyszko, "still I will go to Skirwoilla to obtain a pass for you which the Zmudzians will respect."

Then he called upon Skirwoilla; the old leader gave the pass for his departure without any difficulty, for he knew all about the affair and loved Zbyszko; he was grateful to him for his bravery in the last battle, and for this very reason he made no objection whatever to the departure of the knight who belonged to another country and came on his own account. Then, thanking Zbyszko for the great services which he had rendered, he looked at him in surprise at his courage in undertaking a journey in the wild lands; he bid him good-bye, expressing his wishes to meet him again in some greater and more conclusive affair against the Knights of the Cross.

But Zbyszko was in a great hurry, for he was consumed as with a fever. When he arrived at the post he found everybody ready, and his uncle, Macko, on horseback, among them; he was armed and had on his coat of mail and his helmet upon his head. Zbyszko approached him and said:

"Then you too go with me!"

"But what else could I do?" replied Macko, a little testily.

Zbyszko did not reply, but kissed the right hand of his uncle, then mounted his horse and proceeded.

Sanderus went with them. They knew the road as far as the battlefield very well, but beyond that he was to guide them. They also counted upon the local inhabitants whom they might meet in the woods; who, out of hatred of their masters, the Knights of the Cross, would aid them in tracking the old comthur and the knight, Arnold von Baden, to whom Sanderus attributed such superhuman strength and bravery.



CHAPTER IX.

The road to the battlefield where Skirwoilla had routed the Germans was easy, because they knew it, and so they soon reached it. Owing to the insufferable stench arising from the unburied dead, they crossed it in a hurry. As they did so, they drove away wolves, and large flights of crows, ravens and jackdaws. Then they began to look for traces along the road. Although a whole division had passed over it on the previous day, nevertheless, the experienced Macko found upon the trampled road without trouble, the imprint of gigantic hoofs leading in an opposite direction. Then he explained to the younger and less experienced companions-in-arms:

"It is fortunate that there has been no rainfall since the battle. Only look here. Arnold's horse carrying an unusually big man must also be exceedingly large; this too is easily observed, that the imprint of the horse's feet on this side of the road is much deeper, owing to the galloping in his flight; whilst the tracks marking the previous march on the other side of the road are not so deep, because the horse walked slowly. Let those who have eyes look how the marks of the horseshoes are visible. God grant that we may track those dog-brothers successfully, provided they have not already found shelter somewhere behind walls!"

"Sanderus said," replied Zbyszko, "that there are no forts in this neighborhood, and it is actually so; because the Knights of the Cross have only recently taken possession of this region and have not had enough time to build in it. Then where can they hide themselves? All the peasants who dwelt in these lands joined Skirwoilla, because they belong to the same stock as the Zmudzians.... The villages, Sanderus said, these same Germans destroyed by fire and the women and children are hidden in the thick forest. Provided we do not spare our horses we shall yet overtake them."

"We must spare the horses, for even if we overtake them our safety afterward depends upon our horses," said Macko.

"Sir Arnold," interrupted Sanderus, "received a blow between his shoulder-blades in battle. He took no notice of it at first, but kept on fighting and slaying, but they were obliged to dress it afterward; as is always the case, at first one does not feel the blows but they pain later on. For this reason he cannot exert himself too much to run fast and it may be that he is even obliged to rest himself."

"You said that there are no other people with them?" inquired Macko.

"There are two who lead the litter, the comthur and Sir Arnold. There were quite a number of men with them, but the Zmudzians killed them."

"Let our men lay hold of the two fellows who are with the litter," said Zbyszko. "You, uncle, manage old Zygfried, and I will pounce upon Arnold."

"Well," replied Macko, "I shall be able to manage Zygfried, because, thank God, there is still strength in these bones. But as far as your task is concerned, I should say, do not be so self-confident, for that knight seems to be a giant."

"O well! We shall see," replied Zbyszko.

"You are strong, that I don't dispute, but there are stronger men than you are. Did you observe our own knights whom we met at Krakow? Could you conquer Pan Powala of Taczew, Paszko Zlodziej of Biskupice, and Zawisza Czarny, eh? Don't be too rash, but consider the facts."

"Rotgier also was a strong man," murmured Zbyszko.

"Will there be any work for myself?" asked the Bohemian. But he received no reply, because Macko was thinking about something else.

"If God blesses us we shall be able to reach the Mazowiecki wilderness. We shall be safe there, and all trouble will be at an end."

But after a while he sighed when he reflected that even there affairs would not be entirely ended, there would yet be something to attend to for the unfortunate Jagienka.

"Hey!" he murmured, "God's decrees are wonderful. I had often thought about it. Why did it not occur to you to get married quietly, and let me live with you peacefully. That would have been the most happy course. But now we are the only ones among the noblemen of the kingdom, who are wandering in various regions and wilds, instead of attending to our homes as God commands."

"Well, that is true, but it is God's will," replied Zbyszko.

Then they proceeded on their journey for a while in silence. The old knight turned again to his nephew:

"Do you rely on that vagabond? Who is he?"

"He is a fickle man and perhaps he is a rogue, but he wishes me well, and I am not afraid of treachery from him."

"If so let him ride in front, for if he overtakes them he will not be scared. Let him tell them that he is fleeing from captivity, and they will easily believe him. This is the best way, because if they chanced to see us they might evade us and hide themselves, or have time enough to prepare for defence."

"He is afraid and will not travel by himself at night," replied Zbyszko. "But during the daytime I am sure that that plan is the best one to adopt. I will tell him to stop and wait for us three times during the day. If we do not find him at the appointed places then it will be a sign that he is already with them, and following up his tracks we will fall upon them unexpectedly."

"But will he not warn them?"

"No. He is more friendly to me than to them. I will also tell him that when we surprise them we will also bind him, so that he may escape their revenge later on. Let him not recognize us at all...."

"Do you intend to preserve those fellows alive?"

"How else should it be?" replied Zbyszko, somewhat anxiously. "You see.... If it were in our country, at home in Mazowsze, we would challenge them, as I challenged Rotgier, to mortal combat; but this cannot be here in their own country.... What concerns us here is Danuska and speed. In order to avoid trouble all must be done quietly afterward we will do as you said and push on as fast as our horses can go, to the wilds of Mazowsze. But attacking them unexpectedly we might find them unarmed, yes, even without their swords. Then how could we kill them? I am afraid of reproach. We are now both of us, belted knights, so are they...."

"It is so," said Macko. "Yet it may lead to an encounter."

But Zbyszko contracted his brow and in his face was depicted that determination so characteristic of the looks of the men of Bogdaniec, for at that moment he looked as if he were Macko's own son.

"What I should also like," he said, in low tones, "is to have that bloody dog Zygfried crushed under Jurand's feet! May God grant it!"

"Grant it, God! grant it!" immediately repeated Macko.

Whilst conversing, they covered a considerable stretch of the road until nightfall. It was a starry night, but there was no moon. They were obliged to halt the horses, breathe, and refresh the men with food and sleep. Zbyszko informed Sanderus before resting that he was to proceed in front in the morning. Sanderus willingly assented; but reserved to himself, in case of an attack by wolves or people, the right to run back to Zbyszko. He also asked him for permission to make four stations instead of three, because in solitude fear always took hold of him, even in pious countries. How much more so in such an abominable wilderness as the one where they found themselves now?

When they had refreshed themselves with food, they lay down to sleep upon skins near a small camp-fire, which they built about half a furlong from the road. The servants alternately guarded the horses, which, after they were fed, rolled upon the ground and then slept, resting their heads upon each other's necks. But no sooner did the first ray illuminate the woods with a silvery hue, than Zbyszko arose and awoke the others, and at dawn they continued their march. The tracks of the hoofs of Arnold's immense stallion were easily recovered, because the usual muddy ground had dried up from drought. Sanderus went on ahead and soon disappeared. Nevertheless, they found him about half way between sunrise and noon, at the waiting place. He told them that he had not seen any living soul, only one large aurochs, but was not scared and did not run away, because the animal got out of his way. But he declared that shortly before, he had seen a peasant bee-keeper, but had not detained him, for fear that in the depths of the forest there might be more of them. He had attempted to question him, but they had not been able to make themselves understood.

As time went by, Zbyszko became somewhat troubled.

"What will happen," he said, "if I arrive in the higher and drier region, where, owing to the hard, dry road, the traces of the fugitives will be lost? or, if the pursuit shall last too long and lead to an inhabited region where the people have long since accustomed themselves to the servitude of the Knights of the Cross; an attack and capture of Danusia by them is more than probable, because, although Arnold and Zygfried did not erect forts, or fortify their towns, the inhabitants would surely take their part."

Happily that fear turned out to be groundless, because they did not find Sanderus at the appointed second post, but found instead an incision in the form of a cross, apparently newly cut into the bark of an adjacent pine tree. They looked at each other and their hearts began to beat faster. Macko and Zbyszko immediately dismounted, in order to discover the tracks upon the ground; they examined carefully, but it did not last long, because they were plainly discernible.

Sanderus had apparently deviated from the road into the forest, and followed the prints of the huge horse-hoofs, which, owing to the dry condition of the turfy soil, were not so deeply impressed, but sufficiently visible. The heavy horse disturbed at every step the pine needles which were blackened at the margins of the impressions.

Other marks did not escape Zbyszko's keen sight. Then he and Macko mounted their horses, and, together with the Bohemian, silently began taking counsel as though the enemy were quite near them.

The Bohemian's advice was that they should advance on foot at once, but they did not agree to that, because they did not know the distance they would have to traverse in the woods. The footmen, however, had to proceed carefully in advance, and signal in case something occurred, so that they might be in readiness.

They moved onward among the woods in some trepidation, and another incision upon a pine tree assured them that they had not lost Sanderus' tracks. Very soon they also discovered a path, showing that people frequently passed that way, and they were convinced that they were in the neighborhood of some forest habitation, and within it was the object of their search.

The sun was getting low, and shed a golden hue upon the trees of the forest. The evening promised to be serene; silence reigned in the woods because beast and birds had retired to rest, only here and there, among the little top branches of the trees, squirrels moved to and fro looking quite red in the last beams of the sun. Zbyszko, Macko, the Bohemian and the attendants, closely followed each other, knowing that their men were considerably in advance and would warn them in proper time; the old knight spoke to his nephew in not very subdued tones.

"Let us calculate from the sun," he said. "From the last station to the place where we found the first incision, we covered a great distance. According to Krakow time it would be about three hours.... Then Sanderus must be by this time among them, and has had time enough to tell them his adventure, provided he has not betrayed us."

"He has not betrayed us," replied Zbyszko.

"Provided they believe him," continued Macko; "if they do not, then it will be bad for him."

"But why should they not believe him? Do they know of us? Him they know. It often happens that prisoners escape from captivity."

"But what concerns me is this: if he told them that he ran away they might fear he would be pursued, and they would move on at once."

"No, he will succeed in casting dust in their eyes by telling them that such a long pursuit would not be undertaken."

They were silent for a while, then it seemed to Macko that Zbyszko was whispering to him; he turned and asked:

"What do you say?"

But Zbyszko had said nothing to Macko, but looking upward, said:

"Only if God would favor Danuska and the courageous enterprise in her behalf."

Macko also began to cross himself; but he had scarcely made the first sign of the cross, when from the hazelnut thickets one of the scouts approached him suddenly and said:

"A pitch-burning cabin! They are there!"

"Stop!" whispered Zbyszko, and dismounted at once. Macko, the Bohemian, and the attendants, also dismounted; three of the latter received orders to hold the horses in readiness and take care that they, God forbid, did not neigh. "I left five men," said Macko. "There will be the two attendants and Sanderus, whom we shall bind in a moment, and, should any one show fight, then, at his head!"

Then they advanced, and, as they moved on, Zbyszko said to his uncle:

"You take the old man, Zygfried; and I, Arnold."

"Only take care!" replied Macko. Then he beckoned to the Bohemian, reminding him to be ready at a moment's notice to be on hand to assist his master.

The Bohemian nodded assent. Then he breathed deeply and felt for his sword to see whether it could be easily unsheathed.

But Zbyszko observed it and said:

"No! I command you to hasten at once to the litter and not move from it for a single moment whilst the fight is going on."

They went quickly but silently through the hazelnut thickets. But they had not gone far, when at a distance of not quite two furlongs, the growth ceased suddenly, revealing a small field upon which were extinguished pitch-burning heaps, and two earthen shanties, or huts, where the pitch-burners had dwelt before the war. The setting sun brightly illuminated the lawn, the pitch-burning heaps, and the two detached shanties—in front of one of which the two knights were sitting upon the ground; and in front of the other were Sanderus and a bearded, red-headed fellow. These two were occupied in polishing the coats of mail with rags. Besides this, the two swords were lying at Sanderus' feet ready to be cleaned afterward.

"Look," said Macko, forcibly grasping Zbyszko's arm to detain him if possible for another moment, "he has taken the coats of mail and swords purposely. Well, that one with the grey head must be...."

"Forward!" suddenly shouted Zbyszko.

And like a whirlwind he rushed into the clearing; the others did the same, but they only succeeded in reaching Sanderus. The terrible Macko caught hold of old Zygfried by the breast, bent him backward and in a moment held him under him. Zbyszko and Arnold grasped each other like two hawks, with their arms intertwined and began to struggle fiercely with each other. The bearded German, who was with Sanderus, sprang toward the sword, but he did not use it. Wit, Macko's servant, struck him with the back of his axe, and stretched him upon the ground. Then they began to bind Sanderus, according to Macko's order, but he, although he well knew that it was so arranged beforehand, began to bellow as terribly as a yearling calf whose throat is being cut by the butcher's knife.

But Zbyszko, though so strong that he could squeeze a branch of a tree and cause the sap to run out, felt that he was not grasped by human hands, but was in the hug of a bear. He also felt that if it were not for the cost of mail which he had on, in case of having to fight with the sword, the German giant would have crushed his ribs and perhaps the spinal column too. The young knight lifted him a little from the ground, but Arnold lifted him up higher still, and gathering all his strength he tried to throw him to the ground so that he might not be able to rise again.

But Zbyszko also clutched him with such terrible force that blood issued from the German's eyes. Then he crooked his leg between Arnold's knees, bent him sideways and struck him in the hollow of the knee, which threw him to the ground. In reality both fell to the ground, the young knight underneath; but at the same moment, Macko, who was observing all this, threw the half doubled-up Zygfried into the hands of an attendant, and rushed toward the prostrate fighters, and in the twinkling of an eye he had bound the feet of Arnold with a belt; then he jumped, and sat down upon him as upon a wild boar, took the misericordia from his side, and plunged it deep into his throat.

Arnold screamed horribly, and his hands involuntarily withdrew from Zbyszko's sides. Then he began to moan not only with the pain of the wound, but he also felt an indescribable pain in his back: where he had received a blow from a club in his previous fight with Skirwoilla.

Macko grasped him with both hands and dragged him off Zbyszko, and Zbyszko got up from the ground and sat down; he tried to stand up but could not; he sat thus without being able to rise, for some time. His face was pale and covered with perspiration. His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were blue; and he looked in front of him as though half dazed.

"What is the matter?" asked Macko, in alarm.

"Nothing, but I am very tired. Help me to get up."

Macko put his hands under Zbyszko's arms and lifted him up at once.

"Can you stand?"

"I can."

"Do you feel pain?"

"Nothing, but I am short of breath."

Meanwhile the Bohemian, seeing apparently that the struggle in the farm yard was all over, appeared in front of the hut, dragging the woman servant of the Order by the neck. At that sight, Zbyszko forgot his fatigue, his strength returned to him at once, and he rushed to the hut as though he had never struggled with the terrible Arnold.

"Danuska! Danuska!" cried Zbyszko; but no answer came.

"Danuska! Danuska!" he repeated; then he remained silent. It was dark within, for that reason he could see nothing at first. But instead, he heard, proceeding from behind the stones which were heaped up behind the fireplace, a quick and audible panting, like that of a little animal hiding.

"Danuska! For God's sake. It is I! Zbyszko!"

Then he observed in the darkness, her eyes, wide open, terrified and bewildered.

He rushed toward her and pressed her in his arms, but she did not entirely recognize him, and tore herself away from his embrace, and began to repeat in a subdued whisper:

"I am afraid! I am afraid! I am afraid!"

END OF PART SEVENTH.



PART EIGHTH.



CHAPTER I.

Neither loving words nor tender persuasion availed. Danusia recognized nobody and did not regain consciousness. The only feeling which pervaded her whole being was fear, a kind of fear shown by captured birds. When food was brought to her she refused to eat it in the presence of others. In the glances of rejection which she cast upon the food one could detect habitual hunger. Left alone, she sprang upon the eatables like a ravenous little wild beast. But when Zbyszko entered she rushed into the corner and hid herself under a bundle of dry hops. Zbyszko opened his arms in vain, he stretched out his hands in vain, with tears he begged her, but unavailingly. She refused to issue from her hiding-place even when the light was so arranged that she could recognize the outlines of Zbyszko's face. It seemed as though she had lost her memory along with her senses. He therefore gazed upon her emaciated pale face in which was depicted an expression of dismay, her hollow eyes, her tattered dress, and his heart cried out within him from pain at the thought in whose hands she had been and how she had been treated. He was finally seized with such a terrible rage that he grasped his sword and rushed toward Zygfried, and he would have certainly killed him, had not Macko grasped him by the arm.

Then like enemies they struggled with each other. But the young man was so much fatigued from his previous fight with the gigantic Arnold, that the old knight prevailed. Twisting Zbyszko's wrist, he exclaimed:

"Are you mad?"

"Let me go!" he begged, gnashing his teeth, "for my heart bursts within me."

"Let it burst! I will not let you go. It is better to dash your head to pieces than disgrace yourself and the whole family."

And, clutching Zbyszko's hand, as with iron tongs, he said threateningly:

"See, revenge will not escape you; and you are a belted knight. How then dare you kill a prisoner in bonds? You cannot help Danusia. What will be the result? Nothing but disgrace. You say that kings and princes think it proper to destroy their prisoners. Bah! That is not the case with us; and what is feasible with them is not so with you. They have a kingdom, cities, castles. But what have you? Knightly honor. Those who find no fault with them will spit in your face. Consider, for God's sake!"

There was silence for a moment.

"Let me go!" Zbyszko repeated gloomily. "I will not kill him."

"Come to the fire, let us consult."

Macko led him by the hand to the fire which the servant stirred up near the tar-ovens. There they sat down and Macko reflected for a moment, and then said:

"You must also remember that you have promised this old dog to Jurand, who will avenge his own and his daughter's tortures. He is the one who will pay him, and do not you fear! In this you must please Jurand. It is his affair and not yours. Jurand may do it, but you must not; he did not capture him but will receive him as a present from you; he can even flay him alive and none will blame him for it. Do you understand me?"

"I understand," replied Zbyszko. "You are right."

"You are evidently coming to your senses again. Should you again be tempted by the devil, bear this also in your mind, that you have also challenged Lichtenstein and other Knights of the Cross, and if you should kill a defenceless captive and the men should publish your action, no knight would accept your challenge, and he would be justified. God forbid! We have enough misfortunes, but spare us shame. Let us rather talk about what concerns our present doings and movements."

"Give your advice," said the young man.

"My advice is this: that serpent who was with Danusia ought to be killed; but it does not become a knight to kill a woman. We shall therefore deliver her into the hands of Prince Janusz. She plotted treason whilst at the forest court of the prince and princess. Let the Mazovian courts judge her. If they do not crush her upon the wheel for her crimes, then they will offend God's justice. As long as we find no other woman to wait upon Danusia, as long as she is wanted to serve her we must keep her until some other old woman be found; then we will tie her to a horse's tail. But now we must push on toward the Mazovian wilderness as soon as possible.

"It cannot be done at once, it is dark already. By to-morrow, if God will, Danusia may come to her senses."

"Let the horses rest well, and at daybreak we will start."

Further conversation was interrupted by Arnold von Baden, who was stretched on his back at a distance, trussed by his own sword; he said something in German. Old Macko got up and went to him, but as he did not understand him he called the Bohemian.

But Hlawa could not come at once because he was busy about something else. During the conversation, near the fire, he went directly to the servant of the Order, put his hands around her neck, shook her like a pear-tree, and said:

"Listen, you slut! Go into the shanty and prepare the fur bedding for the young lady. But before you do that, dress her in your good apparel, whilst you put upon your carcass the tattered rags which you have given her.... May your mother suffer perdition!"

He was so angry that he could not control himself, and shook her so savagely that her eyes bulged out. He would have twisted her neck, but he thought better of it since she was still of some use; finally he let her go, saying:

"After that I will hang you to a branch."

She embraced his knees in terror, but he kicked her. She rushed into the shanty, threw herself at Danusia's feet and began to scream:

"Protect me. Do not permit!"

But Danusia closed her eyes, and uttered her customary suppressed whisper: "I am afraid, I am afraid, I am afraid."

Then she lapsed into perfect silence, because that was the effect whenever the woman approached her. She permitted the woman to undress, wash and dress her in the new clothes. The woman prepared the bedding and laid upon it Danusia, who had the appearance of a wooden or wax figure; after which she sat down near the fireplace fearing to go out.

But the Bohemian entered after awhile. First he turned toward Danusia and said:

"You are among friends, lady, so in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, sleep peacefully!"

Then he made the sign of the cross. Then not wishing to disturb her he said to the servant in a low voice:

"You shall lie bound at the threshold; you must keep quiet and do not frighten her; if not, I will break your neck. Get up, and come."

He led her out and bound her tightly, then he went to Zbyszko.

"I have ordered that lizard to dress the lady in her own garments, to make her a soft bed, and the lady is asleep; better leave her alone because she is scared. God grant that by to-morrow, after repose, she may regain her presence of mind. You too must think of refreshment and rest."

"I shall sleep at her threshold," replied Zbyszko.

"Then I shall withdraw the slut from the threshold and place her near that corpse with curled locks. But you must take refreshment now, because there is a long road and no little fatigue before you."

Then he went and got some smoked meat and dried turnips which they had procured in the Lithuanian camp; but he had scarcely put the meal in front of Zbyszko when Macko called him to come to Arnold.

"Notice carefully, what this mass wishes, although I know a few German words, I am unable to understand him."

"Bring him to the fire, sir, and have your conversation there," replied the Bohemian.

Then he unbelted himself and placed the belt under Arnold's arms and lifted him upon his shoulders; he bent much under the heavy weight of the giant, but as the Bohemian was a powerful man, he carried him near the fireplace and threw him down, as one throws a sack of peas, at the side of Zbyszko.

"Take off the fetters from me," said Arnold.

"That might be done if you swore on knightly honor, that you would consider yourself a prisoner. Nevertheless, I will order the sword to be taken from under your knees, the bonds of your hands to be loosened, so as to enable you to sit with us, but the rope binding your feet shall remain until we have discussed the affair." And he nodded to the Bohemian, who cut the bonds away from Arnold's hands and assisted him to sit down. Arnold looked haughtily at Macko and Zbyszko and asked:

"Who are you?"

"How do you dare to ask? It is not your business. Go and inform yourself."

"It concerns me, because to swear upon the honor of a knight can only be done to knights."

"Then look!"

And Macko opened his cloak and showed his knightly belt upon his loins.

Seeing that, the Knight of the Cross was greatly amazed, and after awhile said:

"How is it? and you prowl in the wilderness for prey and assist the pagans against the Christians?"

"You lie!" exclaimed Macko.

Then the conversation began in an unfriendly and arrogant manner, which seemed like quarreling. But when Macko vehemently shouted that the very Order prevented Lithuania from embracing Christianity, and when all proofs were adduced, Arnold was again amazed and became silent, because the truth was so obvious that it was impossible not to see it, or to dispute it. What specially struck him was Macko's words which he uttered whilst making the sign of the cross: "Who knows whom ye actually serve, if not all at least some among you." It specially struck him because there were certain comthurs in the very Order who were suspected of having given themselves over to Satan. Steps were not taken against them for fear of public reproach of the whole Order. But Arnold knew it well because these things were whispered among the brethren of the Order and happenings of such a character reached his ears. Therefore, Macko's narrative which he had heard from Sanderus, concerning the inconceivable conduct of Zygfried, greatly disturbed the mind of the candid giant.

"Oh, that very Zygfried, with whom you marched to war," he said. "Does he serve Christ? Have you never heard how he communicates with evil spirits, how he whispers to them, smiles and gnashes his teeth at them?"

"It is true!" murmured Arnold.

But Zbyszko, whose heart was filled with new waves of grief and anger, suddenly exclaimed:

"And you, who speak of knightly honor? Shame upon you, because you help a hangman, a devilish man. Shame upon you, because you quietly looked upon the torture of a defenceless woman, and a knight's daughter. Maybe you also outraged her. Shame upon you!"

Arnold closed his eyes, and making the sign of the cross, said:

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.... How is that?... That fettered girl in whose head dwell twenty-seven devils? I?..."

"Oh, horrible! horrible!" interrupted Zbyszko, groaning.

And, grasping the handle of his misericordia he again looked savagely toward the dark corner where Zygfried lay on his back.

Macko placed his hand quietly upon Zbyszko's arm, which he pressed with his whole strength, so as to bring him back to his senses; whilst he himself, turning toward Arnold, said:

"That woman is the daughter of Jurand of Spychow, and wife of this young knight. Do you understand now, why we followed you up, and why we have captured you?"

"For God's sake!" said Arnold. "Whence? How? she is insane...."

"Because the Knights of the Cross kidnapped that innocent lamb and subjected her to torture."

When Zbyszko heard these words: "Innocent lamb," he put his fist to his mouth, gnashed his teeth, and was not able to restrain his tears.

Arnold sat absorbed in thought; but the Bohemian told him in a few words of Danveld's treachery, the kidnapping of Danusia, the torture of Jurand, and the duel with Rotgier. Silence reigned when he concluded. It was only disturbed by the rustling of the trees of the forest and the crackling of the brands in the fireplace.

In that manner they sat for a while. Finally Arnold lifted up his head and said:

"I swear to you not only upon my knightly honor, but also upon the crucifix, that I have not seen that woman, that I did not know who she was, and that I have not taken the least part in her tortures and never laid my hand upon her."

"Then swear also that you will go with us willingly and that you will make no attempt to escape, then I will order your bonds to be entirely unloosed," said Macko.

"Let it be as you say. I swear! Whither are you going to take me?"

"To Mazovia, to Jurand of Spychow."

Then Macko himself cut the rope from Arnold's feet, and ordered meat and turnips to be brought. After a while Zbyszko went out and sat upon the threshold of the hut to rest, where he no longer found the servant, for the hostler boys had carried her off and put her among the horses. Zbyszko lay down upon the fur which Hlawa brought. He resolved to keep awake and wait until daybreak; peradventure then some happy change might take place in Danusia!

But the Bohemian returned to the fireplace where he wished to converse with the old knight of Bogdaniec about a certain affair and take off the burden which pressed so heavily upon his heart. He found him also absorbed in troubled thought, and not noticing the snoring of Arnold who, after having consumed an immense quantity of baked turnips and meat, was much fatigued and slept the sleep of a stone. "And why do you not take a rest?" inquired the Bohemian.

"Sleep has fled from my eyelids," replied Macko. "May God grant a good morning."

Then he looked at the stars and said:

"The Wagoner is already visible in the sky, and I am continually thinking about how all these things shall be arranged. And I shall not go to sleep either because the young lady of Zgorzelice occupies my mind."

"Ah! that is true. More trouble. But she, at least, is at Spychow."

"But we brought her to Spychow from Zgorzelice, not knowing why."

"It was at her own request," replied Macko, impatiently, because he knew in his heart that he was wrong and he hated to talk about it.

"Yes! But what now?"

"Ha! Well? I shall carry her back to her home; then let God's will be done!"

But after a moment he added:

"Yes! God's will be done, that at least Danuska be restored to health, one might then know what to do. But as it is now, the deuce knows! What will it be if she neither recovers nor dies? The Devil knows."

But the Bohemian was thinking all the time of Jagienka.

"Your honor should understand that when I left Spychow and bade her good-bye, she told me this: 'If anything should happen, come and inform me before Zbyszko and Macko arrive. And as they will be obliged to send information by somebody, let them send it by you, then you will take me to Zgorzelice.'"

"Hey!" replied Macko. "Surely, it would be improper for her to stay at Spychow when Danusia arrives. Surely she ought now to be taken back to Zgorzelice. I pity the little orphan, I sincerely regret it. But God's will must be done. But now how shall I arrange the matter? Let me see. Did you say that she commanded you to come ahead of us with the news, and then take her to Zgorzelice?"

"She did. I repeated to you her words exactly."

"Now, you may move ahead of us. Old Jurand must also be informed that his daughter has been found, but it must be done carefully so that the sudden joy may not kill him. As I love God, I declare that it is the most practical thing to do."

"Return! Tell them that we have rescued Danusia, and that we shall bring her home without delay. Then take that other poor girl to Zgorzelice!"

Then the old knight sighed, because he was really sorry for Jagienka, whom he had fostered.

After a while he asked again:

"I know that you are a valiant and powerful man, but see that you keep her out of harm's way or accident. Things of that character are often met with on the road."

"I shall do my best, even if I lose my head! I shall take with me a few good men, whom the lord of Spychow will not grudge, and I shall bring her safely even to the end of the world."

"Well, do not have too much confidence in yourself. Bear also in mind that even there, at Zgorzelice, it will be necessary to watch Wilk of Brzozowa and Cztan of Rogow. But, I confess, in speaking of Wilk and Cztan, I am out of order; for, it was necessary to watch them when there was nothing else to think of. But now, things have changed and there is no more hope, and that which is going to happen must happen."

"Nevertheless, I shall protect the young lady from those knights, seeing Danusia is very weak and consumptive. What if she should die?"

"As God is dear to me you are right. The emaciated lady is scarcely alive. If she should die?"

"We must leave that with God. But we must now think only of the young lady of Zgorzelice."

"By rights, I ought to convey her myself to her fatherland. But it is a difficult task. I cannot now leave Zbyszko for many potent reasons. You saw how he gnashed his teeth, how he strove to get at the old comthur to kill him, and my wrangling with him. Should that girl die on the road, even I should be unable to restrain him. And if I shall not be able to prevent him, nobody else could, and everlasting shame would fall upon him and upon our clan, which God forbid. Amen!"

Then the Bohemian replied:

"Bah! There is, I am sure, a simple means. Give me the hangman and I will keep him and bring him to Jurand at Spychow and shake him out of the sack."

"How clever you are! May God grant you health," exclaimed Macko, joyfully. "It is a very simple thing, quite simple. Should you succeed in bringing him to Spychow alive then do with him as you please."

"Then let me also have that Szczytno bitch, and if she is not troublesome on the road, I will bring her too to Spychow, if she is, then I shall hang her on a tree."

"The removal of the pair, whose presence causes much fear to Danusia, may contribute to her speedy recovery. But if you take the female servant with you, who is going to nurse Danusia?"

"You may find some old woman in the wilderness, or one of the fugitive peasant women; take hold of the first one you meet, for any one will be better than this. Meanwhile, you must take care of lady Zbyszko."

"You speak to-day somewhat more prudently than usually. Seeing that Zbyszko is constantly with her, he will also succeed in filling the double position, that of father and mother, for her. Very well, then. When do you intend to start?"

"I shall not wait for the dawn; now I must lie down for a while, it is scarcely midnight yet."

"The Wagoner[117] is already in the sky, but the chickens[117] had not yet made their appearance."

"Thank God that we have taken some counsel together, for I was very much troubled."

Then the Bohemian stretched himself near the expiring fire, covered himself over with the long furred robe and in a moment he fell asleep. However, the sky had not yet paled and it was still deep, dark night when he awoke, crept from under the skin, looked at the stars, and stretching his somewhat benumbed limbs, he awoke Macko.

"It is time for me to move," he said.

"Whither?" asked the semi-conscious Macko, rubbing his eyes with his fists.

"To Spychow."

"True, I quite forgot. Who is there snoring so loud as to awake the dead?"

"The knight Arnold. Let me throw a few branches upon the embers, then I will go to the men."

Then he left, and hastily returned in a little while, and from a distance he called in a low voice:

"Sir, there is news, bad news!"

"What has happened?" Macko exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

"The servant has escaped. The men took her among the horses. May thunder strike them, and when they fell asleep, she sneaked like a serpent from among them and escaped. Come, sir!"

Macko, in alarm, moved quickly with the Bohemian toward the horses, where they found only one man, the others had scattered in pursuit of the fugitive. But, considering the darkness of the night and the thickets of the forest, the search was a foolish undertaking, and after a while they returned with hanging heads. Macko began to belabor them quietly with his fists. Then he returned to the fireplace, for there was nothing to be done.

Zbyszko, who was watching in the hut and did not sleep, came in, hearing the movements, to ascertain the reason. Macko told him all about his consultation with the Bohemian, then he also informed him of the woman's escape.

"It is not a great misfortune," he said. "Because she will either die of starvation, or fall into the hands of the peasants who will flay her; that is, if she succeeds first in escaping the wolves. It is only to be regretted that she escaped the punishment at Spychow."

Zbyszko also regretted her escaping punishment at Spychow; otherwise he received the news quietly. He did not oppose the departure of the Bohemian with Zygfried, because he was indifferent to anything which did not directly concern Danusia. He began to talk about her at once.

"I shall take her in front of me on horseback to-morrow, then we shall proceed."

"How is it there? Is she asleep?" inquired Macko.

"At times she moans, but I do not know whether she does it in sleep or whilst she is awake, but I don't want to disturb her, lest I frighten her."

Further conversation was interrupted by the Bohemian, who observing Zbyszko, exclaimed:

"O! your honor, also here! It is now time for me to start. The horses are ready and the old devil is fastened to the saddle. It will soon begin to dawn because now the nights are short. Good-bye, your grace!"

"God be with you, and health!"

But Hlawa pulled Macko aside again and said:

"I wish also to ask you kindly, that in case anything should happen.... You know, sir ... some misfortune or another ... you would dispatch a courier posthaste to Spychow. If we have left Spychow, let him overtake us."

"Well," said Macko, "I have also forgotten to tell you to take Jagienka to Plock. Do you understand? Go there to the bishop, and tell him who she is, that she is the goddaughter of the abbot, for whom there is a will in the bishop's possession; then ask his guardianship for her, as that is also mentioned in the abbot's will."

"But if the bishop orders us to remain in Plock?"

"Then obey him in everything and follow his counsel."

"It shall be so, sir! Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!"



CHAPTER II.

Sir Arnold was informed in the morning of the flight of the servant of the Order; he chuckled at the news, on the other hand he held the same opinion as Macko, viz, that she might fall a prey to the wolves, or be slain by the Lithuanians. The latter was not at all improbable, since the inhabitants of that locality who were descendants of the Lithuanians abhorred the Order and all those who came in contact with it. Some of the male population had joined Skirwoillo, others had risen in arms and slaughtered the Germans here and there; they, their families and their cattle hid themselves in the inaccessible fastnesses of the forest. They searched the following day for the servant, but without success, because Macko and Zbyszko were occupied with more important matters; hence the lack of indispensable ardor in the searchers.

They were obliged to push on toward Mazowsze; they wished to start at once, at the rising of the sun, but they were unable to do so because Danuska was in a profound sleep, and Zbyszko would not permit her to be disturbed.

He listened to her moanings during the night-time and thought that she was not asleep. He, therefore, promised himself good results. Twice he stealthily went into the hut; twice he saw by the light falling through crevices of the logs her closed eyes, open mouth and glowing face, as little children are wont to have when asleep. His tears melted his heart at that sight, and he said to her:

"May God grant you health my most beloved little flower." Then he continued: "Your troubles are ended, your tears are ended. May the most merciful Lord Jesus grant that your happiness may be as inexhaustible as the flowing river."

Then, lifting up his simple and upright heart heavenward, he asked himself: "With what can I thank Thee? What shall I render to Thee for Thy favors? Shall I offer to the Church some of my wealth, grain, herds, wax, or something of the same nature acceptable to God?" He was even about to vow and name accurately his offerings, but he wished to wait and see the result when Danusia awoke, whether she had recovered her senses so that there might be reason for thanksgiving.

Although Macko knew well that there would be perfect safety when once in the domains of Prince Janusz, nevertheless he was also of the opinion that it was better not to disturb Danusia's rest. He therefore kept his horses and servants in readiness but waited.

Nevertheless when it was past noon and Danusia continued to sleep, they were somewhat alarmed. Zbyszko, who was incessantly watching, looking through the crevices and door, entered suddenly for the third time into the hut and sat down upon the block where the servant had dressed Danusia yesterday.

He sat and gazed at her, but she had her eyes closed. But after the lapse of a short time, not more than it takes to say one "Pater" and "Ave Maria," her lips began to twitch a little, and she whispered as though she saw through her closed eyelids:

"Zbyszko...."

In an instant be threw himself upon his knees in front of her, grasped her emaciated hands, which he kissed in ecstasy. Then he addressed her in a broken voice:

"Thank God! Danuska! You recognize me."

His voice awoke her completely. Then she sat up in the bed and with open eyes she repeated:

"Zbyszko!"

Then she began to blink and look around her in amazement.

"You are no more in captivity," said Zbyszko. "I have rescued you from their hands and I am taking you to Spychow."

But she withdrew her hands from Zbyszko's and said:

"All this came to pass because there was no permission from dear papa. Where is the princess?"

"Awake, then, dear little berry! The princess is far away and we have rescued you from the Germans."

Then she appeared not to notice his words but seemed to try to recollect something.

"They have also taken away my little lute and have broken it against the wall. Hey!"

"O God!" exclaimed Zbyszko.

He then observed that she was absent-minded and her eyes were glassy and her cheeks were glowing, and it struck him that she must be very ill, and the mention of his name twice was due to feverish hallucinations.

This caused his heart to tremble within him with despair and a cold sweat covered his brow.

"Danuska!" he said. "Do you see and understand me?"

But she replied in a low voice:

"Drink! Water!"

"Gracious Lord!"

And he rushed out, and at the door encountered Macko, who was coming to ascertain her condition. Zbyszko could only tell him hurriedly, "Water;" and then hastened to the stream which ran among neighboring bushes.

He returned after a moment with a full pitcher of water and handed it to Danusia who drank it with much avidity. Macko entered the hut before Zbyszko and seeing the patient he became gloomy.

"She is feverish?" he said.

"Yes!" groaned Zbyszko.

"Does she understand what you say?"

"No."

The old knight furrowed his brow, then he began to rub his neck and nape with his hands.

"What is to be done?"

"I do not know."

"There is only one thing to be done," said Macko.

But Danusia, who finished drinking, interrupted him at that moment; she fixed her dilated pupils on him, and said:

"You too I have not offended, have mercy upon me!"

"We have pitied you already, child. We only desire your welfare," replied the old knight, somewhat agitated.

Then he turned to Zbyszko:

"Listen, there is no use to leave her here. The wafting of the wind and the rays of the sun will probably benefit her. Do not lose your head, boy, but take her to the same cradle wherein she was when they brought her here—or upon the saddle and let us move on! Do you understand?"

Then he left the hut to give the last orders, but he had scarcely looked in front of him, when he suddenly stood still—as if nailed to the spot.

A numerous host of infantry armed with pikes and spears was surrounding the huts, ovens and clearing, on all sides like a wall.

"Germans!" thought Macko.

He was greatly terrified, but in a moment he grasped the hilt of his sword, clenched his teeth, and had the appearance of a wild beast at bay, ready to defend himself desperately.

Then the giant-like Arnold, and another knight, advanced toward them from the shanty, and when he approached Macko, Arnold said:

"Fortune's wheel turns rapidly. I was your prisoner yesterday; you are mine to-day."

Then he looked haughtily at the old knight as one looks upon an inferior person. He was neither a very bad man, nor a very cruel one, but he had the defect common to all Knights of the Cross, who in spite of their being well-bred and even humane, looked with contempt upon those whom they conquered, neither could they suppress their great pride when they felt themselves the stronger.

"You are prisoners," he repeated, haughtily.

The old knight looked around gloomily; he was very serious but audacious in his heart.

Were he armored, upon his charger, and with Zbyszko at his side;—if both had swords in their hands and were armed with axes, or the terrible "woods," which the Polish noblemen knew how to wield dexterously, he would then have probably attempted to break through, that wall of lances and spears. Not without reason did the foreign knights, quoting it as an objection, exclaim to the Polish in the fight near Wilno: "You scorn death too much."

But Macko was on foot facing Arnold, alone, without his coat of mail. He therefore looked around and observed that his men had already thrown down their arms, and he thought that Zbyszko too was with Danusia in the hut, entirely unarmed. As an experienced man, and much accustomed to war, he knew that there was no chance whatever.

Therefore he slowly drew the short sword from its sheath and threw it at the feet of the knight who stood at Arnold's side, who without the least of Arnold's haughtiness, but at the same time with benevolence, replied in excellent Polish:

"Your name, sir? I shall not put you in bonds but shall parole you, because I see you are a belted knight, and you treated my brother well."

"My word!" replied Macko.

Having informed him who he was, Macko inquired whether he would be permitted to go to the hut and warn his nephew against any mad action. His request was granted. He entered and remained there for a while and emerged with the misericordia in his hands.

"My nephew is even without a sword, and he begs you to permit him to remain with his wife as long as you intend to stay here."

"Let him remain," said Arnold's brother. "I shall send him food and drink; we shall not move soon, because the people are tired out and we too are in need of refreshment and rest. Sir, we also invite you to accompany us."

Then they turned and went to the same fireplace near which Macko had spent the night. But either from pride, or from ignorance they permitted him to walk behind them. But he, being a great warrior, knowing how it ought to be, and adhering strictly to custom, inquired:

"Pray, sir, am I your guest or a prisoner?"

Arnold's brother was shamed at first; he halted and said:

"Proceed, sir."

The old knight went in front, not wishing to hurt the self-respect of the very man from whom he expected much.

"It is evident, sir, that you are not only acquainted with courteous speech, but your behavior is also courtly."

Then, Arnold, who only understood a few words, asked:

"Wolfgang, what are you talking about?"

"I am doing the right thing," said Wolfgang, who was evidently flattered by Macko's words.

They sat down at the fireside, and began to eat and drink. The lesson which Macko had given to the German was not in vain. Wolfgang regaled Macko first at the repast.

The old knight learned, from the conversation which followed, how they were caught in the trap. Wolfgang, the younger brother of Arnold, led also the Czluch infantry to Gotteswerder, against the rebellious Zmudzians. Those, however, proceeding from distant counties could not arrive in time to assist Arnold. The latter did not think it necessary to wait for them because be expected to meet on the road other bodies of infantry proceeding from the towns and castles situated on the adjacent Lithuanian frontier. This was the reason that his younger brother delayed his march several days, and thus it happened that he found himself on the road in the neighborhood of the tar-burners, where the fugitive woman-servant of the Order informed him of the ill-luck which had happened to his older brother. Arnold, whilst listening to the narrative which was told him in German, smiled with satisfaction; finally he affirmed that he expected such a result.

But the crafty Macko, who, in whatever situation he was, always tried to find some remedy, thought that it would be of advantage to him to make friends with the Germans, therefore he said after a while:

"It is always hard to fall into captivity. Nevertheless, thank God, I am fortunate to have been delivered into nobody else's hands but yours, because, I believe, that you are real knights and mindful of its honor."

Then Wolfgang closed his eyes and nodded his head somewhat stiffly but evidently with a feeling of satisfaction.

The old knight continued:

"That you speak our language well. God has given you understanding in everything."

"I know your language, because the Czluchs speak Polish, and my brother and I served for seven years in those counties."

"You will in time take office after him. It cannot be otherwise, because your brother does not speak our language."

"He understands it a little, but cannot speak it. My brother is more powerful, although I am not a weakling either, but of duller wit."

"Hey! He does not seem to me dull."

"Wolfgang, what does he say?" asked Arnold again.

"He praises you," replied Wolfgang.

"True, I praised him," added Macko, "because he is a true knight, and that is the reason. I tell you frankly that I intended to let him go entirely free to-day on parole, so that he might go wherever he wished to, even if he were to present himself in a year's time. Such treatment is customary among belted knights."

Then he looked attentively into Wolfgang's face, but it was wrinkled, and he said:

"Were it not for the assistance you have given to the pagan dogs against us, I also might have let you go on parole."

"This is not true," replied Macko.

Then the same asperity of discussion as in yesterday's dispute between Arnold and himself was repeated. However, although right was on the old knight's side, it went on with more difficulty, because Wolfgang was of a more severe disposition than his older brother. Nevertheless, one good thing resulted from the dispute, that Wolfgang learned of all the abominable practices of the Order at Szczytno, their crooked actions and treachery—at the same time he learned of Danusia's misfortunes and tortures. To those very iniquities which Macko had thrown in his teeth he had no reply. He was obliged to acknowledge that the revenge was justifiable, and that the Polish knights were right in their acts, and finally said:

"Upon the glorified bones of St. Liborus! I swear, that I also will not pity Danveld. They said of him that he practiced black magic, but God's power and justice is mightier than black magic. As to Zygfried, I am not sure whether he also served the devil or not. But I shall not hunt for him, because first, I have no horses, and on the other hand, if what you said is true that he outraged that girl, then let him also never return from Hades!"

Here he stretched himself and continued:

"God! Help me till the hour of my death."

"But how will it be with that unfortunate martyr?" inquired Macko. "Are you not going to permit us to take her home? Has she to suffer agony in your underground prisons? Remember, I beseech you, God's wrath!..."

"I have nothing against the woman," replied Wolfgang, roughly. "Let one of you take her home to her father, on condition that he present himself afterward, but the other must remain here."

"Bah! But what if he swears upon his knightly honor and upon the lance of St. Jerzey?"

Wolfgang hesitated a little because it was a great oath; but at that moment Arnold asked a third time:

"What does he say?"

When he informed himself of the matter he opposed it vehemently and rudely. He had his private reasons for it. First, he was conquered by Skirwoillo, then in single combat, by the Polish knight. He also knew that owing to the destruction of the army at the previous engagement it would be impossible for his brother to advance with his infantry to Gotteswerder and he would be obliged to return to Malborg. Moreover he knew that be would be obliged to give an account to the Master and marshal for the defeat, and that it would be to his advantage if he were able to show even one important prisoner. To produce one knight alive is of more value than to explain that two such were captured....

When Macko heard the loud protestations and oaths of Arnold, he resolved, since nothing else could be obtained, to take what was previously offered. Turning to Wolfgang he said:

"Then, I beg one more favor—permit me to acquaint my nephew; I am sure he will see the wisdom of remaining with his wife, while I go with you. At all events, permit me to let him know that he has nothing to say against it, for it is your will."

"Well, it is all the same to me," replied Wolfgang. "But let us talk about the ransom which your nephew must bring for himself and you. Because all depends on that."

"About ransom?" inquired Macko, who would have preferred to postpone that conversation to a later period. "Have we not time enough to talk about it? Where a belted knight is concerned his word is of equal value with ready money, and as to the sum it can be left to conscience. There, near Gotteswerder, we captured one of your important knights, a certain de Lorche. And my nephew (it was he who captured him) paroled him. No allusion whatever was made to the amount of ransom."

"Have you captured de Lorche?" inquired Wolfgang, sharply. "I know him. He is a powerful knight. But why did we not meet him on the road?"

"He, evidently, did not go this way, but went to Gotteswerder, or to Ragniec," replied Macko.

"That knight comes from a powerful and renowned family," repeated Wolfgang. "You have made a splendid capture! It is well then, that you mentioned it. But I cannot let you go for nothing."

Macko chewed his mustache; nevertheless he lifted up his head haughtily, and said:

"Apart from that, we know our value."

"So much the better," said the younger von Baden, and immediately added:

"So much the better. It is not for us, for we are humble monks, who have vowed poverty, but for the Order that will enjoy your money, to God's praise."

Macko did not reply to that but only looked at Wolfgang, with such an expression as to say: "Tell that to somebody else." After awhile they began to bargain. It was a difficult and irritable task for the old knight. On the one hand he was very sensitive to any loss, and on the other hand, he understood that he would not succeed in naming a too small sum for Zbyszko and himself. He therefore wriggled like an eel, especially when Wolfgang, in spite of his polished words and manners, had shown himself excessively grasping and as hard hearted as a stone. Only one thought comforted Macko and that was, that de Lorche would have pay for all, but even that, the loss of de Lorche's ransom, worried him. Zygfried's ransom he did not count in the affair because he thought that Jurand, and even Zbyszko, would not renounce his head for any price.

After long haggling they finally compromised upon the sum in grzywiens and the time of payment, and stipulated upon the number of horses and men Zbyszko should take with him. Macko went to inform Zbyszko, and advised him not to tarry but depart at once, for something else might meanwhile come into the German's head.

"So it is with knightly conditions," said Macko, sighing. "Yesterday you held them by the head, to-day they hold you. Well, it is a hard lot. God grant that our turn may come. But now, it is necessary not to lose time. If you hasten on, you may yet overtake Hlawa and you will be safer together, and once out of the wilderness and in the inhabited region of Mazowsze you will find hospitality and assistance in every nobleman's or wlodyka's house. In our country they do not refuse those things even to a foreigner, how much more to one of their own people! The condition of the poor woman might also be improved thereby."

Then he looked at Danusia, who was in feverish half-sleep, breathing quickly and loudly, with her transparent hands stretched upon the black bearskin, trembling with fever.

Macko made the sign of the cross at her and said:

"Hey, take her and go! May God restore her, for it appears to me that her thread of life is being spun very thin."

"Do not say that!" exclaimed Zbyszko, in a distressed tone.

"God's power! I will order your horses to be brought here—and you must leave at once!"

He went out and arranged everything for the journey. The Turks, whom Zawisza had presented to them, led the horses and the litter, filled with mosses and fur, and they were headed by Zbyszko's man, Wit. Zbyszko left the hut in a moment, carrying Danusia in his arms. There was something touching in that, so that even the brothers von Baden, whose curiosity had drawn them to the hut, looked curiously into the childlike face of Danuska. Her face was like that of the holy images in the churches of Our Lady, and her sickness was so great that she could not hold up her head which lay heavily on the young knight's arm. They looked at each other with astonishment, and in their hearts arose a feeling against the authors of her woes.

"Zygfried has the heart of a hangman, and not that of a knight," whispered Wolfgang to Arnold, "and that serpent, although she is the cause of your liberty, I will order to be beaten with rods."

They were also touched when they saw Zbyszko carrying her in his arms, as a mother is wont to carry her child. They comprehended how great was his love for her, for youthful blood coursed in the veins of them both.

He hesitated for awhile whether to keep the patient on horseback near his breast on the road or to lay her in the litter. Finally he resolved upon the latter course, thinking that she might feel more comfortable in a recumbent posture. Then he approached his uncle and bowed to kiss his hand and bid him good-bye. But Macko, who, as a matter of fact, loved Zbyszko as the apple of his eye, was somewhat disinclined to show his agitation in the presence of the Germans; nevertheless he could not restrain himself, and embracing him strongly, pressed his lips to his abundant golden hair.

"May God guide you," he said. "But remember the old man, for it is always a hardship to be in captivity."

"I shall not forget," replied Zbyszko. "May the most Holy Mother comfort you."

"God will recompense you for this and for all your kindness."

Zbyszko mounted his horse immediately, but Macko recollected something and hastened to his side, and placing his hand upon Zbyszko's knee, he said:

"Listen, if you should overtake Hlawa, remember not to molest Zygfried, otherwise you will bring down reproach upon yourself and upon my gray head. Leave him to Jurand, but do nothing to him yourself. Swear to me upon your sword and honor."

"As long as you do not return," replied Zbyszko, "I shall even prevent Jurand from harming him in order to prevent the Germans from injuring you on Zygfried's account."

"So, and you seem to care for me?"

And the young knight smiled sadly. "You well know that, I am sure."

"Move on and good-bye."

The horses moved on, and in a little while disappeared in the hazelnut thickets. Macko felt suddenly very much troubled and lonely and his heart was torn for that beloved boy in whom rested the entire hope of the family. But he soon got rid of his sorrow, for he was a man of valor and could master his emotions.

"Thank God that I am a prisoner and not he."

Then he turned toward the Germans and said:

"And you, gentlemen, when will you start and whither are you going?"

"When it is agreeable to us," replied Wolfgang, "but we go to Malborg, where, sir, you must first appear before the Master."

"Hey! I shall yet have to forfeit my head there, for the help I have given to the Zmudzians," said Macko to himself.

Nevertheless his mind was at rest when he thought that de Lorche was in reserve; the Baden knights themselves would protect his head even if it were only for the ransom.

"Otherwise," he said to himself, "Zbyszko will neither be obliged to present himself nor lessen his fortune."

That thought caused him a certain relief.



CHAPTER III.

Zbyszko was unable to overtake Hlawa, because the latter traveled day and night, and only rested as much as was absolutely necessary to avoid the breaking down of the horses, which only subsisted on grass, and were consequently faint and unable to withstand such long marches as they could in regions where oats could be easily procured. Hlawa neither spared himself, nor took into consideration the advanced age and weakness of Zygfried. The old knight suffered terribly, especially because the sinewy Macko had previously wrenched his bones. But still worse were the mosquitoes which swarmed in the humid wilderness, and as his hands were bound and his legs fastened beneath the horse's belly, he was unable to drive them away. Hlawa did not directly torture him in the least, but he had no compassion for him, and only unfastened his right hand to enable him to eat when he stopped for refreshment.

"Eat, ravening wolf, so that I may bring you alive to the lord of Spychow." Such were the words of inducement to stimulate Zygfried's appetite. At first Zygfried resolved to starve himself to death; but when be heard the announcement that in such case Hlawa would forcibly open his teeth with a knife and stuff the food down his throat, he gave up his intention in order to avoid such a degradation of the Order and knightly honor.

But the Bohemian was particularly anxious to arrive at Spychow before his master, so that he might spare his adored young lady from shame. Simple, but courageous and fearless, he was not void of knightly noble sentiment, and he well understood that Jagienka would be humiliated if she were at Spychow together with Danusia. "It will be possible to tell the bishop, in Plock (he thought) that the old knight of Bogdaniec, owing to his guardianship, thought it necessary to take her with him, and then, as soon as it was known that she was the bishop's ward, and besides Zgorzelice she was also entitled to the abbot's estate, then even the wojewoda's son would not be too great for her." That thought contributed to soothe his troubled mind. The very reason of his conveying good news to Spychow troubled his mind, as it would be the source of misfortune to Jagienka.

The beautiful face of Sieciechowna, as red as an apple, often appeared before his eyes. On such occasions, he would, if the road permitted, tickle the horse's sides with his spurs, because he wanted to reach Spychow as soon as possible.

They traveled along intricate roads, or rather no roads at all, through the woods, going straight ahead as the reaper does. The Bohemian knew that by pushing on a little toward the west and constantly in a southerly direction, he would reach Mazowsze and then all would go well. During the daytime he followed the sun, and at night he marched by the stars. The wilderness in front of him appeared endless. Days and nights passed by. More than once he thought that Zbyszko would not succeed in bringing the woman through the terrible wilderness alive, where there was no food to be procured, and where the horses must be guarded by night from wolves and bears. During the daytime they had to get out of the way of herds of bison and aurochs; where the terrible wild-boar sharpens his crooked tusks against the roots of the pine-trees, and very often it happened that those who made no use of the crossbow, or did not strike with the pike into the sides of a deer or young boar, such passed whole days without food.

"How will it be here," thought Hlawa, "with a maiden who is already almost tortured to death!"

Now and then, it happened that they had to cross swamps and deep ravines, which continuous spring rains filled for days with rushing streams. Lakes, too, were not wanting in the wilderness, in which they saw at sunset whole flocks of deer and elk disporting in the red transparent waters.

Often they also perceived smoke which showed the presence of people. On several occasions Hlawa approached such forest settlements, whence wild people would issue, clothed with skins upon their naked bodies, armed with clubs and bows, and looking from under their shaggy-tangled hair; the men took them to be werewolves. It was necessary to take advantage of their first astonishment whilst they were looking at the knights, and leave them in the greatest haste.

Arrows whistled twice near the Bohemian's ears, and he heard the shouts of "Wokili" (Germans!) But he preferred to run away rather than to make himself known. Finally, after a few days he began to think that perhaps he had already crossed the frontier, but there was nobody from whom he could ascertain. Only when he met some colonists who spoke the Polish language did he get the information, that he finally stood upon Mazowszian soil.

There it was better, although the whole eastern part of Mazowsze was also one wilderness. But it did not terminate uninhabitated as the other did. When the Bohemian arrived at a colony they were less shy—perhaps because they were not so much brought up in constant hatred, or that the Bohemian could converse with them in Polish. The only trouble with them was the boundless curiosity of the people who surrounded the travelers, and overwhelmed them with questions. When they were informed that he carried a prisoner, a Knight of the Cross, they said:

"Give him to us, sir, we will take care of him!"

They importuned the Bohemian so much, that he often became very angry with them, but at the same time, he explained, that he could not grant their request because the prisoner belonged to the prince. Then only they relented. Later on when he arrived in the inhabited places among the nobles and land-owners, he did not get off so easily. The hatred against the Order was raging, because everywhere they still remembered vividly the wrongs which the prince had suffered at its hands when, in time of peace, the Knights of the Cross had kidnapped the prince near Zlotorja and imprisoned him. They did not wish to dispatch Zygfried at once. But here and there, one of the doughty Polish nobles would say: "Unbind him and we will give him arms, and then challenge him to deadly combat." To such the Bohemian would give a potent reason: that the right to vengeance belonged to the unfortunate lord of Spychow, and one must not deprive him of that privilege.

The journey through the inhabited region was easy; because there were good roads and there was plenty of provender for the horses. The Bohemian continued his uninterrupted march until after ten days' travel he arrived before Corpus Christi day at Spychow.

He arrived in the evening, at the same time as when he had brought the news from Macko, that he had left Szczytno for the Zmudz country. It also happened now as before, that Jagienka, observing him through the window, rushed toward him, and he fell at her feet. He was speechless for a while. But she soon lifted him up and took him aside, as she did not wish to interrogate him in the presence of others.

"What news?" she asked, trembling with impatience, and scarcely able to catch her breath. "Is she alive? Well?"

"Alive! Well!"

"Has she been found?"

"She has. They rescued her."

"Praised be Jesus Christ!"

But whilst she spoke these words her face assumed a deathly pallor, because all her hopes crumbled into dust.

However, her strength did not forsake her, neither did she lose consciousness. After a moment she mastered herself entirely and enquired again:

"When will she be here?"

"Within a few days! She is sick and the road is very bad."

"Is she sick?"

"Martyred. Her reason is confused with her tortures."

"Merciful Jesus!"

Silence reigned for a moment. Jagienka's lips became pale and they moved as though in prayer.

"Did she recognize Zbyszko?" she asked again.

"She may have done so, but I am not sure, because I left at once, in order to inform you, lady, of the news. That is the reason why I am standing here."

"God reward you. Tell me how it happened!"

The Bohemian related briefly how they rescued Danusia, how they captured the giant Arnold together with Zygfried. He also informed them that he had brought Zygfried with him, because the young knight wished to present him to Jurand so that the latter might avenge himself.

"I must now go to Jurand," said Jagienka, when he had finished.

Then she left, but Hlawa had not been long alone when Sieciechowna rushed toward him from the next apartment; but either because not entirely conscious, owing to the fatigue and exceeding great troubles he had passed through, or owing to his yearning for her, he entirely forgot himself when he saw her; suffice it to say he caught her by the waist, pressed her to his breast and kissed her eyes, cheeks and mouth in such a manner as though he had previously informed her of everything that was necessary for her to know before the kissing began.

Perhaps he had already told her everything in spirit, when upon the road, therefore he kissed her and kept on kissing endlessly. He embraced her so strongly that she lost her breath. Yet she did not defend herself, at first from surprise and then, from faintness, so that were it not for Hlawa's powerful grasp she would have fallen to the ground.

Fortunately this did not last too long because distant steps were heard on the stairs, and after a moment, Father Kaleb rushed into the room.

They then quickly separated, and the priest began to overwhelm him with questions. But Hlawa was unable to catch his breath and replied with difficulty. The priest thought that his condition was owing to fatigue. But when the news of the finding of Danusia, her rescue and the presence of her torturer in Spychow was confirmed by Hlawa, he fell upon his knees to thank God for it. Meanwhile Hlawa quieted down a little, and when the priest got up, he was able to repeat his story in a more intelligent and quiet manner in what way Danusia had been found and how they had rescued her.

"God did not deliver her," the priest said, whilst listening to his narrative, "in order that her reason and soul should be restored whilst she was in the darkness and in the power of the unclean. Let Jurand only lay his saintly hand upon her, and offer only one of his prayers, and he will restore her reason and health."

"Knight Jurand?" asked the Bohemian, with astonishment. "Does he possess so much power? Can he become a saint whilst he is alive?"

"Before God he is considered a saint even whilst he is alive. But when he dies the people will have one more patron saint in heaven;—a martyr."

"But you said, reverend father,'that if he were only to lay his saintly hands upon the head of his daughter.' Has his right hand grown again? for I know you prayed for it."

"I said: 'the hands,' as it is customary to say," replied the priest. "But one hand is enough, if God will."

"Surely," answered Hlawa.

But in his voice there was something discouraging when he thought that it appeared like a miracle. Jagienka's entrance interrupted further conversation.

"Now I have informed him carefully of the news," she said. "To avoid the death, which sudden joy might cause, but he fell with the cross in his hands and prayed."

"I am sure that he will be in such a condition till morning, as he is accustomed to lie prostrate in prayer whole nights," said Father Kaleb.

And so it happened; they called to see him several times and each time they found him stretched on the ground, not asleep but in such a fervent prayer that it bordered on perfect ecstasy. Now the watchman, whose duty it was to watch according to custom over Spychow from the top of the tower, said afterward that he observed that night an extraordinary brightness in the house of the "Old lord."

Very early on the following morning when Jagienka called again to see him, he showed his desire to see Hlawa and the prisoner. The prisoner was brought before him immediately from the dungeon. He was tightly bound with his hands crossed upon his chest. All, including Tolima, advanced toward the old man.

But owing to a dark, cloudy day and the insufficient light of a threatening tempest, which penetrated the bladder panes, the Bohemian was unable to see Jurand well. But as soon as his keen eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and looked upon him, he scarcely recognized him. The gigantic man had dwindled to a giant skeleton. His face was so white that it did not much differ from his snow-white hair, and when he bowed on the arm of his chair, with his eyelids closed, he appeared to Hlawa like a real corpse.

In front of the chair stood a table; upon it were a crucifix, a pitcher of water, and a loaf of black bread in which stuck the misericordia, that terrible knife which the knights made use of in dispatching the wounded. Besides bread and water, Jurand enjoyed no other nourishment. His only garment consisted of coarse sackcloth upon his naked body fastened with a straw girdle. Such was the manner of living of that once powerful and terrible knight of Spychow, since his return from his captivity in Szczytno.

Now, when he heard them arrive, he kicked aside the tame she-wolf which gnawed at his bare feet, It was then that Jurand appeared to the Bohemian like a real corpse. There was suspense for a moment, because they expected some sign from him ordering them to talk: but he sat motionless, pale, and peaceful; his mouth, a little opened, had the real appearance of one who is plunged in the everlasting sleep of death.

Jagienka finally announced that Hlawa was there, and gently enquired:

"Do you wish to hear him?"

Old Jurand nodded his head affirmatively, and the Bohemian began, for the third time, to narrate briefly the story of the battles with the Germans near Gotteswerder. He told him of the fight with Arnold von Baden and how they had rescued Danusia. Not wishing to add new pains to the sufferings of the old martyr and destroy the effect produced by the good news of Danusia's rescue, he purposely avoided relating that her mind suffered for a long time on account of terrible distress. But, on the other hand, as his heart was filled with rancor against the Knights of the Cross, and thirsting to see Zygfried receive his deserved terrible chastisement, he purposely mentioned the fact that when they found her she was terrified, emaciated and sick, and it was evident that they must have treated her as executioners do, and had she remained longer in their terrible hands she would have withered and perished as a little flower withers and perishes when trodden under foot.

Whilst Hlawa recited the news, the sky was overcast and the clouds grew darker, which showed the approach of a storm. The copper-colored masses of clouds which hung over Spychow rolled more heavily upon one another.

Jurand was motionless and listened to the recital without any trembling, so that he appeared to be in deep sleep. Nevertheless, he heard and understood everything, for when Hlawa told the story of Danusia's woes, two large drops of tears rolled down his cheeks from the hollows of his eyes. Only one earthly feeling still remained in his breast, and that was love for his child.

Then his blue lips began to move in prayer. The first distant thunderclaps were heard outside. Now and then lightning illuminated the windows. He prayed long, and again the tears trickled down upon his white beard. When he finally ceased to pray, long silence reigned, which was so much prolonged as to cause uneasiness to those present because they did not know what to do.

Finally, old Tolima, who was Jurand's right hand, his companion in all battles, and the chief guard of Spychow, said:

"That man of Hades, that werewolf Knight of the Cross who tortured you and your child stands now before you. Give a sign what shall be done to him, and in what manner we shall chastise him!"

Upon hearing these words, rays of light crossed Jurand's face and he nodded to them to bring the prisoner near him. And in the twinkling of an eye, two men grasped him by the shoulders and placed him in front of the old man, who stretched out his hand to Zygfried's face, which he touched as though to feel the outlines and recognize it for the last time. Then he lowered his hand to Zygfried's chest upon which he felt his bound hands, touched the fastening ropes, again closed his eyelids and bowed his head.

They thought that he was absorbed in thought, but whether that was so or not, it was not of long duration, because after a while he started out of his reverie and pointed with his hand in the direction of the loaf of bread, in which the ill-omened misericordia stuck.

Then, Jagienka, the Bohemian, even old Tolima and all present held their breath. It was a hundredfold well-deserved punishment, a righteous revenge. Yet their hearts palpitated at the thought that the half-alive old man should be groping to slash the bound prisoner.

But Jurand, seizing the knife in the middle, ran his finger along its sharp edge, so that he might feel the thing he was cutting, and began to sever the bonds upon Zygfried's arms.

At that sight, all were seized with amazement, because they understood his desire and could scarcely believe it. However, that was too much for them. Hlawa was the first to murmur; he was followed by Tolima and the other men. Only the priest Kaleb began to ask, in a voice broken with unrestrained weeping:

"Brother Jurand, what are your wishes? Do you intend to give the prisoner his liberty?"

"It is so!" replied Jurand, nodding his head affirmatively.

"No punishment for him, nor vengeance? Is that your desire?"

"It is!" and he nodded again.

Open discontent was shown in the murmurs and anger of the men, but the priest did not wish to belittle such an unheard-of deed of mercy. He turned to the murmurers and exclaimed:

"Now who dares to oppose the saint? Down upon your knees!"

Then he knelt down himself and began to say:

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come...."

And he repeated the Lord's Prayer to the end. At the words: "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," he directed his eyes involuntarily toward Jurand, whose face actually assumed an unearthly radiance.

That sight, and that expressive prayer crushed the hearts of all present; even old Tolima, the confirmed, hardened warrior, made the sign of the Holy Cross, and immediately embraced Jurand's feet and said:

"Lord, if you want your wishes to be accomplished, then the prisoner should be led to the frontier."

"Yes!" nodded Jurand.

The storm approached nearer and nearer and the lightning more frequently illuminated the windows.



CHAPTER IV.

Two horsemen, in the midst of the storm and pouring rain, reached the frontier of Spychow. They were Zygfried and Tolima. The last mentioned accompanied the German to protect him from the waylaying peasants and the servants of Spychow, who burned with hatred and revenge toward him. Zygfried was unarmed, but he was not fettered. The rainstorm, driven by the tempest, had already overtaken them. Now and then, when it suddenly thundered, the horses reared. They traveled in deep silence in a ravine. Owing to the narrowness of the road, they were at times so near that they struck each other's stirrups. Tolima, who had been accustomed to guard prisoners for many years, frequently looked at Zygfried watchfully, as though he were guarding against his escaping suddenly, and an involuntary shudder seized him every time he looked at Zygfried, because his eyes appeared to him to be shining in the darkness like the eyes of an evil spirit, or of a vampire. It struck Tolima that it would be advisable to make the sign of the cross over Zygfried, but he refrained from doing so, because, he thought, that under the sign of the cross, he would hear unearthly voices, and Zygfried would be transformed into a hideous being. His teeth chattered and his fear increased. The old soldier who could fight singly against a whole band of Germans and fall fearlessly upon them, as a hawk swoops upon a flock of partridges, was nevertheless afraid of unclean spirits, and wanted to have nothing to do with them. He would have preferred simply to point out to the German the road and return; but he was ashamed of himself, therefore he led him as far as the frontier.

It was then, when they had drawn near the border of the Spychow forest, that the rain ceased, and the clouds were lit up with a strange yellowish light, that Zygfried's eyes lost that above-mentioned unnatural glare. But Tolima was seized with another temptation: "They ordered me," he said to himself, "to lead this mad dog safely as far as the frontier. I have done that; but must the torturer of my master and his daughter leave without revenge and punishment? Would it not be a proper and God-pleasing deed to kill him? Ay! I should like to challenge him to deadly combat, but he is not armed. Very soon at Pan Warcimow's farm, about a mile from here, they will supply him with some weapon, and then I will challenge him. With God's help I shall overthrow him, then kill him, and fitly, cut off his head and bury it in the dung!" These were the words which Tolima said to himself. Then looking greedily at the German he began to dilate his nostrils as if he already smelt fresh blood. He fought hard in his mind with that desire; it was hard wrestling with himself, until he reflected that Jurand had not only granted to the prisoner his life and freedom as far as the frontier, but also beyond it, otherwise Jurand's holy deed would have no merit and the heavenly reward for him would thereby be lessened. He finally prevailed over himself, and reining in his horse, said;

"Here is our border; your side is not far from here; proceed, you are free; and if the qualms of conscience do not take you off, or God's thunder does not strike you, then you need not fear man."

Then Tolima returned; and Zygfried proceeded. His face looked as if petrified and a savage expression was depicted upon it. He did not reply a single word, as though he heard nothing that was said to him. He continued his journey now upon a wider road and had the appearance of one who is fast asleep.

The break in the storm and the brightening of the sky only lasted a short time. It darkened again; so much so that it looked like the darkness of night. The clouds traveled so low that they quite enveloped the forest and from the hills came down an ill-boding obscurity, a kind of hissing and growling of impatient vampires, who were kept back by the angel of the storm. Blinding lightning illuminated the threatening sky every moment and terrified the land. Then one could see the broad highway extending between the two black walls of forest, and upon it a lonely horseman. Zygfried moved on in a semi-conscious condition, consumed by fever. Despair had lacerated his heart since Rotgier's death and filled it with crimes of revenge. Remorse, awful visions, soul stirrings had already tortured his mind in the past to such a degree that with great effort he had to fight madness; there were even moments when he could fight no longer and he surrendered. But the new troubles, fatigue upon the road under the strong hand of the Bohemian, the night he had passed in the dungeon of Spychow, the uncertainty of his fate, and above all, that unheard-of and almost superhuman deed, had quite terrified him. All this had brought him to a climax. There were moments when his mind became so stupefied that he entirely lost his judgment and he did not know what he was doing. Then the fever awoke him and, at the same time awoke within him a certain dull feeling of despair, destruction, and perdition,—a feeling that all hope was already gone, extinguished and ended. He felt that about him was only night, night and darkness, a horrible abyss into which he must plunge.

Suddenly a voice whispered in his ear:

"Go! Go!"

And he looked around him and saw the very image of death, a skeleton mounted upon a skeleton horse, pressing closely beside him, with his white rattling bones.

"Is it you?" asked Zygfried.

"Yes it is. Go! Go!"

But at that moment he glanced to the other side and observed that he had another companion there. Stirrup to stirrup rode a form, appearing somewhat like a human being but for his face and head. It had the head of an animal, with raised long pointed ears, covered with black shaggy hair.

"Who are you?" asked Zygfried.

But the being, instead of replying, showed its teeth and growled.

Zygfried closed his eyes, but in a moment he heard a louder clattering of bones and the voice speaking to him in the same ear:

"Time! Time! Hurry on, go!"

"I go!" he replied.

But that last reply came from his breast and seemed to have been uttered by somebody else. Then, impelled as it were by an external unconquerable power, he dismounted and took off his high knight's saddle, and then the bridle. His companions also dismounted, and did not leave him for a moment. They left the middle of the road and went toward the margin of the wood. There, the black being bent down a branch of a tree and assisted him in fastening to it the strap of the bridle.

"Hurry!" whispered Death.

"Hurry!" whistled some voices from the tops of the trees.

Zygfried, who was like one plunged in deep sleep, drew through the buckle the other end of the strap so as to form a noose. Then he stepped upon the saddle which he had placed in front of the tree, and adjusted the noose upon his neck.

"Push back the saddle! ... Already! Ah!"

The saddle, which he pushed with his feet, rolled away several paces and the body of the unfortunate Knight of the Cross hung heavily. It seemed to him, only for a short moment, that he heard a kind of smothering, snorting and roaring, and that abominable vampire threw itself upon him, shook him and then began to tear his breast with its teeth to rend his heart. Then, as the light of his eyes was about extinguished he yet saw something else; for lo, death dissolved into a whitish cloud, which slowly approached him, embraced him, and finally surrounded and covered all with a dismal and impenetrable veil.

At that moment the storm broke with great fury. Thunder roared in the middle of the road with such a terrible crash that it seemed as though the earth was shaken to its very foundations. The whole forest bent under the tempest. The noise of whistling, hissing, howling, creaking of the trunks, and cracking of the broken branches, filled the depths of the woods. The tempest-driven sheets of rain hid the world from sight. Only at short intervals, when lit up by blood-colored lightning, could be seen the wild dangling body of Zygfried by the roadside.

* * * * *

The following morning, advancing upon the same road, a numerous train might be seen. In front was Jagienkna, with Sieciechowna and the Bohemian. Behind them moved the wagons, surrounded by four servants, armed with bows and swords. Every driver had also a spear and an axe near him, not counting forged hayforks and other cutting arms suitable upon the road. Those arms were necessary for protection against wild beasts, as well as robbers, who always swarmed upon the border of the Knights of the Cross. This caused Jagiello to complain in his letters to the Grand Master of the Order, and when they met at Racionza.

But being provided with skilful men and good arms, the retinue traveled without fear.

The stormy day was succeeded by a wonderful one; cheerful, silent and so bright that the eyes of the travelers were blinded when not in the shade. Not a single leaf stirred; from each of them hung large drops of rain which the sun changed into a rainbow. Among the pine-needles they had the appearance of large glistening diamonds. The rainfall produced small streams upon the road, which ran with glad sound toward the lower places, where they formed shallow little lakes. The whole neighborhood was wet and bedewed, but smiling in the morning brightness. On such mornings, also, the human heart is filled with gladness. Therefore the ostlers and servants began to sing; they marveled at the silence which reigned among those riding in front of them.

But they were quiet because a heavy burden oppressed Jagienka's heart. There was something which had ended in her life, something broken. Although she was not experienced in meditation and could not determine distinctly the cause and what was going on in her mind, yet she felt that all that had lived hitherto had vanished, that all her hopes had dissipated as the morning mist upon the fields is dissipated. She felt that she must now renounce and give up everything and forget, and begin almost a new life. She also thought that although, with God's will, her present position was not of the worst, yet it could not be otherwise than sad, and in no way could the new life turn out to be as good as that which had just terminated. And an immense sorrow had taken hold of her heart, so that, at the thought that every past hope was gone forever, tears came to her eyes. But not wishing to add shame to her other troubles, she restrained herself from weeping. She wished that she had never left Zgorzelice; in that case she would not now have to return thither. Then, she thought, it was not only to remove the cause for attacks upon Zgorzelice by Cztan and Wilk that Macko brought her to Spychow. That she could not believe. "No," she said, "Macko also knew that that was not the only cause for taking me away. Perhaps Zbyszko will also know it." At that thought, her cheeks became crimson and bitterness filled her heart.

"I was too daring," she said to herself, "and now I have what I deserved. Trouble and uncertainty to-morrow, suffering and deep sorrow in the future and with it humiliation."

But the train of oppressing thoughts was interrupted by a man coming hastily from the opposite direction. The Bohemian, whose eyes nothing escaped, rushed toward the man, who with crossbow upon his shoulder and badger-skin pouch at his side, and with a feather of a black woodcock in his cap, was recognized as a forester.

"Hey! Who are you? Stop!" exclaimed the Bohemian.

The man approached quickly, his face was agitated, and had the expression of those who have something extraordinary to communicate. He cried:

"There upon the road ahead of you is a man hanging on a tree!"

The Bohemian was alarmed, thinking that it might be a murder, and he asked the man quickly:

"How far from here is it?"

"A bowshot distance, and upon this road."

"Is there nobody with him?"

"Nobody; I frightened away a wolf that was smelling around him."

The mention of a wolf quieted Hlawa, for it told him that there were neither people nor farms in the neighborhood.

Then Jagienka said:

"Look there, what is that?"

Hlawa rushed ahead, and soon returned hurriedly.

"Zygfried is hanging there!" he exclaimed while reining in his horse in front of Jagienka.

"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! You do not mean Zygfried, the Knight of the Cross?"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse